The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum has recently hosted a special session of round table discussions aiming to engage civil society representatives in a vivid debate focused on the need to build a new European engagement strategy towards the Eastern Partner countries. The event “Time for a consistent, long-term EU strategy towards the Eastern Partners and Russia” took place on the 12th of February, in Brussels, at the European Parliament.
The consultation was moderated by Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (MP, Group of the European People’s Party, Poland) and the invited panellists who have opened the floor to discussions were Henri Malosse (President of the EESC, Brussels), Philip Mikos (Head of Unit, Regional Programmes Neighbourhood East, DG Europe Aid), Jeff Lovitt (Co-Chair of the Steering Committee of the EaP CSF and Executive Director of PASOS), Leila Alieva (Steering Committee member of Azerbaijan National Platform of the EaP CSF and President of the Center for National and International Studies Baku, Azerbaijan) and Jan Pieklo (Steering Committee member of the EaP CSF, PAUCI – Warsaw – Kyiv).
The ground proposal for the discussions was mainly focused on the area of fundamental freedoms and human rights as a means of European integration for the neighboring countries. In the context of recent events in the Eastern area, with Ukraine’s refusal to sign the Association Agreement with the EU and the diplomatic and civil turbulences that followed, the discussions about a new functional Eastern Partnership strategy have been centered on the following topics: (1) the need of a medium and long-term strategy for the Eastern Partnership that would ensure a European consistent and proactive diplomacy that inspires confidence in democratic values and human rights; (2) the role of civil society in the partner countries as a driving force for democratic transformation and European integration; (3) the key role of Ukraine in the Eastern Partnership region and the consequences of the recent events for the EU; (4) means and ways to engage the Russian civil society in order to build trust among the Eastern Partnership region and Russia.
The panellists emphasised that the key priorities for 2014-2015 in order to achieve democratic reforms in the Eastern Partnership region are the following: (1) forge a new Charter of Fundamental Freedoms; (2) secure the signature of Association Agreements in Moldova and Georgia in 2014; (3) raise public awareness in all the Eastern Partnership countries regarding the EU’s values; (4) visa liberalisation and facilitation; (5) the EU as a catalyst in fostering concrete multilateral co-operation plus diplomatic leadership to resolve regional conflicts.
Henri Malosse has voiced the concerns of the Ukrainian civil society who urges the EU institutions to support Ukraine in this sensitively turbulent period. “Proven to be strongly pro-European, the people of Ukraine urgently need a strongly pro-active involvement of Europe” emphasized Malosse. Furthermore, the EESC President has pointed out the fact that in order to avoid a similar opposition between political will and civil society in countries who have signed the Association Agreement – such as the Republic of Moldova – the population has to be aware of the European perspectives and values and persuaded not to choose between Brussels or Moscow. Thus, “the role of the Eastern Partnership strategy is not to create tensions in the region but rather to unify people on the basis of common democratic values”, Malosse argued.
In the same line of arguments, Philip Mikos has positively stated that the general process of development of societies is not a linear, smooth one. However, for the Eastern partner countries, the core development has to be driven throughout democratic European values, put at the centre of national legislation frameworks. “Compared to the situation five years ago, we have advanced in terms of the dialogue with civil societies in our partner countries. Furthermore, we have developed a new financial instrument that aims to be an essential tool in keeping up the good progress”, emphasized Mikos. The Europe Aid representative explained that the structural funding has been increased for the Eastern Partner countries projects, particularly targeting national and local support and favouring bilateral country projects for the near future.
The Ukrainian reality proves us the fact that the most important vehicle of support for European democratic values in the EaP countries is represented by the civil society. Also, there is a unified European voice that urges that the level of respect of human rights in the Eastern Partnership countries must be reinforced. However, with the association agreements proposed to the Republic of Moldova and to Georgia but left in a certain uncertainty, with a current unclear acceptance of the association agreement by Ukraine and with no commitment of a similar agreement with Armenia, the EaP Civil Society Forum might have reached a wall that is hard to be crossed by its own means. Thus, the strategy debates that took place during the event haven’t mentioned any particular, strong line of action.
In these challenging times, ChildPact argues that there is high time for the civil society organisations to cooperate and to build together an enhanced regional stability. Thus, the starting point in ChildPact’s strategy to support a regional cooperation mechanism in the wider Black Sea area begins with the very core element that drives societal progress in every state: its future generations – its children. It is by the means of boosting and protecting the capacities of the region’s children that states can pursue greater stability and opened dialogue for cooperation. In this regard, ChildPact advocates for the establishment of a child focused working group within the Black Sea Organisation for Economic Cooperation (BSEC) that would allow putting the children’s issues higher on the regional political agenda.